Long Marsh friendly for beginners and women golfers, but it's no bargain

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

ROTONDA, Fla. - Long Marsh Golf Club is set in the master-planned, Rotonda housing community, which is laid out in a perfect circle with pizza wedge-shaped subdivisions pointing to the center. It's a fairly bland development near the Gulf of Mexico and the beautiful, sunny barrier islands in this still relatively undeveloped part of southwest Florida.

Long Marsh is one of four golf courses in the development, the newest and many say the best. It gives the neighborhood some character, barely newer than many of the houses going up around its perimeter. It's one of the courses in and around Punta Gorda, named recently by Golf Digest as the fourth-best metro area in the country for golf.

Opened in 1999, Long Marsh is a pretty good bite at 7,120 yards from the back tees, but all in all a fairly easy course. There are no hidden hazards or blind shots and the only water carries are risk-reward situations.

"I thought it was fair," said Sean Doherty of Punta Gorda. "I can't blame it for the way I played."

That's by architect Ted McAnlis' design, said Head Professional Jason Jones.

"It's a straightforward course, beginner-friendly," Jones said. "There aren't many bunkers out there or places you can run up shots. Just keep it in the fairway or you could get in trouble."

Indeed, it's easy to lose balls in the thick rough off the fairways and it does have water and marsh, so it isn't like you can just go out there and swing away and expect to bowl it over.

The course winds through quite a bit of housing, with new construction abounding, and it's laid out a bit awkwardly. For example, you'll have a seemingly never-ending cart ride to No. 10 and back to the clubhouse after No. 18.

But, it does have a nice mix of yardages and terrain, pines and oaks mixed with marsh. It has an open, airy feel to it and is in excellent condition, except for the greens, which in September were very sandy after recent overseeding. The Bermuda fairways are in prime shape and the TidDwarf greens should be the same after the overseeding.

The verdict

Long Marsh is a decent play, with some good holes, like No. 18, a 423-yard sharp dogleg right. If you can carry the lake, only 200 yards from the men's tees, you'll have a short-iron in, but be sure to avoid the long waste area to the right, past the trees.

Still, with green fees at $30-$60 weekdays and weekends, there are better bargains around. Riverwood, for example, is a far superior course and charges $30-$50 for the public and $21-$25 for member guests, not to mention summer cards for $25.

Long Marsh is a better play for beginners, as Jones said, and for the women and juniors, because of its lack of forced carries. The men's tees play to 6,670 yards, with a slope of 126 compared to 128 from the tips. But, the forward tees are only 6,061 and 5,257 yards, much easier for those just learning the game.

Stay and play

Palm Island Resort is one of those resorts that almost meets that marketing slogan all resorts insist on using - the word "unique." First of all, you can only get to it by boat or car ferry, though it does cost a whopping $50 to take the ferry about 75 yards over the waterway - you get a pass if you're staying at the resort.

It's a small, cozy barrier island with sweeping views of the Gulf of Mexico right outside your front window. No asphalt here at the resort, and precious few cars: most island residents and guests scoot around the island by golf cart.

At the resort, the roads are made of shell, and you can hitch a ride with a passing cart if you don't want to rent one. You rarely see people wearing shoes and there's a slow, relaxing feel to the place.

The villas are privately-owned and furnished impeccably, with screened-in porches overlooking the beach, grass-topped dunes and Gulf. Sunsets can be spectacular. You can pretty much do anything concerned with water - kayaks and canoes for the hardy, beach umbrellas and lounges for the melanoma worshippers.

Dining out

The resort has a little breakfast café that serves continental breakfast and for lunch there's the pizzeria. The Rum Bay Restaurant is open for lunch and dinner daily and has terrific baby back ribs, along with seafood and the kind of wacky drinks you expect from a beach resort.

Since the villas have refrigerator and cooking facilities, there's also the Rum Bay Store next to the restaurant.

If you want to go to the mainland, Johnny Leverock's Seafood House is just a ferry ride away, and overlooks the marina and yacht basin.

Fast fact

Long Marsh is owned by Lemon Bay Golf Club, Inc.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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